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New Richmond officials scramble to save local jobs

As closure of the Health and Human Services Building approaches, New Richmond officials are working hard to keep county employees in town.

At Monday's special City Council meeting, City Administrator Mike Darrow updated the council members on progress being made. City officials have met with private sector builders, investors, landlords and others to try to come up with a plan to provide office space for the soon-to-be-displaced 100+ county employees.

Darrow said the community hopes to not only retain the local jobs, but also wants to keep county human service programs close by, as they serve a significant number of area residents.

The county is seeking proposals from landlords of existing buildings within St. Croix County for office space. They are requesting about 18,000 square feet of office space to relocate Health and Human Services employees by August of this year.

The building must meet certain specifications and provide at least 125 parking spaces.

Darrow said two private groups from New Richmond have expressed an interest in bidding to provide office space for the county. Parties in Hudson and River Falls appear to have an interest in bidding as well. Deadline for proposals is April 19.

Darrow said the city considered offering the WeTEC building has a possible site for the county offices. But he noted that the investment to upgrade the facility would be too much for the city's budget to handle.

City officials suggested that the WeTEC building could be turned over or sold to a private firm, with the understanding that that group would upgrade the facility for office space. But consideration would also have to be given to existing tenants in the complex, Darrow said.

The city may also be open to providing low-interest loans to private property owners if they intend to upgrade their facilities to accommodate the county offices, said council member Jim Zajkowski.

Darrow said anyone with an idea or suggestion is welcome to contact the city.

"If it's a viable option, we're all ears," said Mayor Fred Horne.

The council agreed to think about the matter during the week and discuss it further at its April 1 special meeting.

In other business:

* Darrow presented a preliminary plan to reorganize the city's committee, board and commission structure. His proposal would combine the duties of some committees and boards to improve efficiency and reduce duplication of effort. "We'd be streamlining the current process," he said. A more formal proposal will be developed and considered at the council's regular April 8 meeting.